As three county office seekers learned last Wednesday, a trip to the coast is not always a day at the beach.
At a candidates' forum March 13 at El Granada Elementary School, three candidates for the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors got an earful from angry Coastside residents who said they were fed up with what they see as their status as second-class citizens.
The event, sponsored by the Mid-Coast Community Council and the county chapter of the League of Women Voters, brought Janet Fogarty and county Supervisors Mary Griffin and Ruben Barrales together for a question-and-answer session. Stan Buetens is challenging Barrales for the Fourth District seat on the board, but was unable to attend due to a family emergency. Fogarty and Griffin are vying for the First District seat.
The candidates fielded more than 30 questions on subjects ranging from the future of Devil's Slide, the Mid-Coast Community Council's relationship with the Board of Supervisors, and the Conservatory hotel project now under construction in El Granada. Most questions centered on the "disenfranchisement" felt by residents of the unincorporated coast.
Their message was loud and clear: Listen to us.
"It often seems the rights of residents are given the back burner to the rights of developers," said Paul Perkovic, a Mid-Coast council member and Montara resident. His comments met with an outburst of applause from many of the 50 people in attendance.
"In Pescadero, we feel like orphans with respect to the county," said Jim Rourke, a member of the Pescadero Municipal Advisory Council, a board whose members have voiced similar frustrations over their dealings with the county.
Although all three candidates took the heat, much of the criticism was directed at Griffin, who audience members said sides with developers far too often.
Most damning for all candidates was a question from El Granada resident Joan Tharp. In an effort to gauge the candidates' familiarity with the coast, Tharp asked each candidate to name the Coastside's unincorporated communities from north to south. All failed the geography test.
Fogarty, who has courted Coastside voters more than any of her fellow supervisorial candidates, began with Pacifica and left out Moss Beach and Princeton. Barrales neglected Princeton, Moss Beach and Miramar. Griffin, who has been on the board for nine years, imagined Montara "weaving around" somewhere south of El Granada.
Responding to one of many snickers from the audience, Griffin challenged anyone to name all the unincorporated areas in other parts of the county.
Recognizing the audience's dissatisfaction, each candidate promised to better represent Coastside residents and balance environmental protection with property rights.
"I don't think it's a mutually exclusive situation," Barrales said.
Fogarty had the luxury of promising what she planned to do as a supervisor rather than defending what she had done. She restated her desire to see the creation of a Coastside planning commission to better represent the needs of the coast.
"I think the Coastside needs better control of its destiny," she said. The message she took from the evening was "a strong feeling of being left out."
In defense of her environmental record, Griffin pointed to her creation of a countywide, curbside recycling program and her support of the Coastal Protection Initiative.
The initiative, which seeks to strengthen controls on coastal development by amending the Local Coastal Program, was originally slated to appear on this November's ballot, but did not qualify because of a printing glitch. Supervisors agreed to send the amendments to the county Planning Commission for their recommendation.
The Board of Supervisors will begin hearings on the Planning Commission's recommendations on April 23. "That will give us an opportunity for further protection," Griffin said.
"This has been a very interesting event," she added, feeling the sting of the pointed criticisms sent her way. "I've found you're guilty until proven innocent."
As the forum closed, each of the candidates promised to come to meetings on the coast as often as they are invited if they are elected.